Our world changed forever 68 years ago this week. Tuesday marks the day that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki three days later. The repercussions and lessons of these bombings at the end of WWII that resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people in the months that followed are still being realized today. Most significantly, these events marked the end of war as a legitimate means of resolving conflict as man now controlled the fate of humankind and the planet itself. War had become obsolete. What was now needed was a new way of thinking. War was the old way of thinking. This was and is the new reality.
Einstein and the early adopters realized this early on. Einstein famously said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” He recognized that we must change our thinking or face possible extinction.
President Kennedy also realized this fact and probably said it most presciently when he said to the UN General Assembly in 1961, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”
Yet we still have approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world today with >95 percent in the arsenals of the U.S. and Russia. The human and financial costs of these programs are real and devastating. The U.S. alone has spent in excess of $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons programs since 1940 and continues to spend in excess of $54 billion annually. Such expenditures rob our future of so much and provide nothing in return except unacceptable risk.
Recent scientific studies have demonstrated the devastating humanitarian effects of even small limited nuclear war with catastrophic climate changes resulting in global famine.
There is no adequate response or recovery from these types of attacks. Prevention is the only response. There is no safe number of nuclear weapons. A complete ban and elimination of these weapons is the only sane response. The framework and steps to realize this have already been worked out. A majority of people around the world in poll after poll agree that abolition is the goal. What is needed is the political will.
Although there remains a shrinking group who feel that nuclear weapons and war play a role in resolving conflict. They cannot imagine a world without the institution of war. They are incorrect in their thinking just as those in the past who felt that slavery and apartheid would always be with us—and woman’s suffrage would never happen.
Today the idea of war prevention and resolving conflict without war has moved to the mainstream as people, faith communities, organizations and civil societies take up the cause. Even Rotary International is taking on the cause in their Rotary Action Group for Peace and War Prevention Initiative. (www.warpreventioninitiative.
Yes, ultimately war will end or mankind will end. The choice is ours. We have the tools and we have the means. We must persevere and work together until this challenge is met. The Hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bombings—remind us daily of the responsibility each of us has to work for the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and war. We owe this to their legacy and to the future of our children.
Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and writes forPeaceVoice.